It is an unfortunate truth that translation scammers abound. Many of us receive dozens of emails per week that qualify as translation scams… some more convincing than others. How do we sort through the myriad of requests to determine which ones are legitimate and which are worth nothing more than a quick “Delete”?
Although much has been written on this topic, many freelancers in the translation and interpreting industry, often newcomers, struggle to find the answers and resources needed to distinguish a real request from a fake one. I’ve included links to similar articles at the end of this post with a wealth of information. I would recommend perusing them at your leisure.
This post will focus specifically on scammers claiming to be clients, who target freelance translators, and on how to avoid becoming their victims. I’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of red flags to keep an eye out for (ordered by the level of concern they should generate), strategies to avoid scams, information about how the scams work, and resources to help translators make sure a request is genuine.
While I am under no illusion that translation scammers will ever disappear entirely, I do feel that the more we share about our common experiences and the more we warn others about the common frauds out there, the more likely we are to avoid them. Please feel free to use this list as you sort through your inbox, share the article with friends and colleagues, and contribute your own suggestions and experiences in the comments section.
What should I look for in emails from new or potential clients?
- There are grammatical or spelling errors in the email.
Sometimes clients will make the occasional error in an email, but this is your first tip that something may be amiss.
- The email has come from a free email address (@yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc.)
Beware of potential clients claiming to offer work from a company while their email address is from a free account. Legitimate individuals may contact you from these domains but businesses will not.
- The email or website contains no additional contact information for the potential client (address, phone number, website, etc.)
Real clients want you to be able to get in touch with them; if they have no company affiliation listed or additional information in their signature line, this is a red flag.
- The name given for the potential client and their email address do not match (e.g. signature line says John Doe and email address is firstname.lastname@example.org).
Ask yourself, “Is there any reason John would be emailing me from Jimmy’s email account?” If not, be wary of the sender.
- The potential client offered to send you money before you deliver the translation, or overpaid you and has asked for money back.
Overpayment by fake check is one of the most common email scams; never send money back unless you are 100% certain that the money you received is legitimate.
- The email is in regard to a specific project but asks what language pairs you work in or does not specify your language combination.
If your potential client really found you because they have work for you, then they will already know what language pair they need!
Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed
When you smell a rat, here’s where to start…
- Search for information about the person online.
Do they have a website? Are they listed on any scammer directories? Can you find a phone number to call and verify that this is a real person sitting behind a real desk in a real office?
- See if the document for translation can be found online.
If you copy and paste a sentence from the source text into your browser, are you able to find the entire document online? If so, the potential client may have just taken a document from the internet and are claiming to need it translated.
- Ask for references.
References aren’t just for contractors—ask if the client has worked with any other translators and check with them to be sure the client is authentic (and check the authenticity of the translator, too).
- Ask for a down payment or non-refundable deposit.
Especially for larger projects, request that the client pay you a percentage upfront (e.g. 25–50%), via a verified payment method (bank transfer, Western Union, Venmo, PayPal, etc.). If they balk at the idea, suggest using something like https://www.escrow.com/ to ensure that no one pays or gets paid before the job is completed.
- Verify the authenticity of any payments you have received.
If you received a check as pre-payment for the job, take it to your bank and ask the banker to verify its authenticity. If you received payment via PayPal, go to http://www.paypal.com (don’t click the link in the email!) and make sure the money is listed as received in your account (if you aren’t sure, call PayPal’s customer service line).
Scammers are getting better and better at targeting their victims, but most schemes involve one of a few different tactics involving a supposed overpayment and a request of immediate refund to the client.
- Client asks for your bank account information to make a payment.
Note that some legitimate clients do request banking information like an account number and routing number in order to make transfers or ACH payments; they will usually send you a PDF form to complete and may even password protect it. Scammers may also ask for your banking information, so be sure to go through the verification strategies listed above and check the resources listed below before deciding whether to provide this information.
- Client sends a fake PayPal/Venmo email to get you to provide your login details on a fake page.
Scammers can be very creative; you may receive a “payment” via an online source that notifies you by email of new funds. Beware of PayPal or Venmo emails that contain spelling errors or old/incorrect logos—some scammers will create very convincing emails claiming to be from these platforms but that actually link to a fake site that will ask for your login details so the scammers can log in using your credentials.
- Client overpays by check and asks you to send some of the money back.
Overpayments are always a red flag; some scammers will send a check that is convincing enough that your bank will allow you to deposit it, and you may even see the money deposit after a few days (there are regulations as to how long a bank can put a hold on your funds before making them available in your account). What you can’t see behind the scenes is that the bank is still working to verify the authenticity of your check, and if it is not real (the payee bank does not exist, has no account with the check’s number, or does not have sufficient funds in said account to pay out the money), your bank will eventually reject the check, take the money back out of your account, and likely charge you a fee of some kind.
- Client overpays by PayPal or other online payment platform and asks you to send some of the money back.
Fake emails stating that you have received PayPal funds may also be used to make you think you have received funds while no money has actually been deposited to your account; but how do they actually get the money? In these last two schemes, after they have “paid” you but before you have realized the money wasn’t real, the scammer will tell you something to the following effect:
“I accidentally sent more money than I intended to.”
“I have decided not to go through with part of the project.”
“My company/client has changed its mind and we will be cancelling the project.”
Then, the client will ask you to return the money—usually via a quick and verified payment method so they can make off with the funds before you realize it’s a scam. Usually they will ask you to return the money via a different method than the one by which they “paid” you—cash deposit to their bank account or wire transfer, for example. A few days or weeks later you will find out the payment was rejected or never went through in the first place, and the client will have disappeared with your funds.
Resources to help verify potential clients
Proz.com Blue Board
Proz.Com Translator Scam Alert Reports
Proz.com Scam Forum
World Payment Practices Forum
Translation Agency Payment Forum
Translation Agencies Business Practices Forum (LinkedIn)
Other articles about avoiding scams
Translation Scams: Tips for Avoiding Them and Protecting Your Identity by Carola Berger
Red Flags for Avoiding Scams, reblogged from The ATA Chronicle
Resources to Help Ensure Translation Payment by Ted Wozniak (includes links to additional mailing lists)
Due Diligence Links by Paula Gordon (includes links to additional resources and a list of questions to ask yourself)
Scammers, I Got Your Number by Audrey Irias
And a funny story to lighten the mood…
Image souce: Pixabay